PHOTO: Michael Ochs Archives | Getty Images
It was on this day in 1967 that the Jimi Hendrix Experience played the Monterey Pop Festival, a show-stopping performance that introduced the American-born guitarist to U.S. audiences.
The festival was held from June 16 through 18, and featured some of the biggest rock acts of the day, including Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, the Mamas & the Papas and the Who. At the time, the Who were still a British phenomenon and anxious for the exposure that Monterey could give them.
As it happened, the Who were scheduled to perform on the 18th, the same day as Hendrix, and Who guitarist Pete Townshend was concerned about having to follow him. Townshend considered the gig a “critical concert” for the Who, and he knew Hendrix would be a tough act to follow. For that matter, both Townshend and Hendrix were known for smashing up their gear, an exhilarating display of demolition that left audiences breathless.
Townshend tried to negotiate with Hendrix, but Hendrix refused. He assumed Townshend was afraid of being upstaged. “What you really mean is that you don’t want me to go first. You want to be first up there with the guitar smashing,” Townshend recalled Hendrix saying. To which Townshend replied, “Jimi, I swear, that’s not what it’s about.”
The matter was finally settled with a coin toss—and the Who went first.
It hardly mattered. The Jimi Hendrix Experience put on a sensational show, with Hendrix playing a stock black Stratocaster (as seen above) before switching to a Strat with a custom red-and-white paint job. The crowning touch was a performance of “Wild Thing,” which Hendrix ended by kneeling over the custom-finished Stratocaster, squirting it with lighter fluid and setting it on fire. With the guitar blazing, he smashed it into the stage, then threw the pieces out into the audience.
Even Pete Townshend hadn’t thought of that one.